Attack on HMC doctor raises tough questions about race relations, hospital care in Qatar
Last month, an Indian doctor at Hamad Hospital was attacked by a patient’s relatives, putting him in the ICU with five cracked ribs.
Frightened and incensed, Hamad’s Emergency Room staff say something must be done about the growing intimidation and disrespect they face, particularly from patients and visitors who are young, male and Qatari.
The problem has grown such that many HMC employees say they are now scared to work in the urgent care section specifically designated for nationals. In a recent interview, HMC staffers told Doha News what happened on July 21.
Shortly after midnight on the second night of Ramadan, an ambulance arrived carrying a patient with a nosebleed.
The on-call HMC doctor went to consult with the EMS attendant who brought him in, when one of the patient’s relatives grew angry, saying the doctor should direct his questions to him and the other young men present.
The doctor gestured for him to wait as he spoke with the EMS attendant.
That’s when the assault began. One man started punching him, and two or three others joined in. The doctor fell to the floor, trying to shield himself from repeated kicks with his arms.
At one point, one attacker picked up a heavy piece of hospital equipment and hit the doctor over the head with it.
Meanwhile, frightened visitors and female staff looked on helplessly.
The security guard ran to call the police, but by the time the officers arrived, the doctor had five fractured ribs, blood in his lungs and bruises on his face and the back of his head.
Though his attackers fled, they were identified when the patient with the nosebleed was interrogated by police. They have since been arrested, but prosecutors have yet to formally charge them and no court date has been set.
“He should be the last victim,” one staffer said about the assaulted doctor, who Doha News is not naming for his own privacy.
The doctor remains in recovery at the hospital and is under 24-hour guard following several visits by his attackers’ relatives, who have tried unsuccessfully to cajole and intimidate him into dropping all charges, staffers told Doha News.
Incidents on the rise
Last month’s incident was the most serious case of abuse against HMC medical staff in recent memory.
But incidents of intimidation, including yelling, threatening and the throwing of waiting room chairs at doctors and nurses have been on the rise in the past two to three years, interviewees said.
The problem makes it impossible to gloss over the fact that racism and classism continue to plague Qatar, the staffers assert.
With regards to this incident, young nationals who grow up with Indian drivers, cooks, gardeners and other service people appear to have the hardest time accepting the authority of an Indian doctor, those interviewed told Doha News.
“Usually, someone comes into a hospital (in an emergency), they’re thinking, ‘I’m looking for someone to save me,’ ” said one interviewee, whose identity remains anonymous as HMC employees are not permit to speak to the press. “Qataris – they think, ‘you better save me.’ “
A generational gap also exists. “The elderly people – they are so sweet,” he said. They remember what Qatar was like before and thank us for helping to develop their country, he added.
Hamad to blame
But not everyone viewed the assault within the expat/locals paradigm.
The doctor was not attacked because of his nationality, Dr. Moza Al-Malki, renowned Qatari therapist and writer told Doha News.
“It’s because the situation in Hamad Hospital is very bad,” she said, referring to long wait times and frequent complaints of the poor bedside manner of some staffers.
She added: “They should do something with the emergency section. Anybody who goes there gets nervous and loses their temper.”
Authorities are aware of the grave implications of last month’s attack. The Indian embassy has gotten involved and the doctor has been visited by the Health minister and other top-level officials, including HMC’s new director.
HMC is also setting up a committee to improve security within the hospital, and is considering installing CCTV cameras inside the building, staffers told Doha News.
Still, staffers say the memory of the assault will likely linger in the ER for a very long time. “For what did I study 15 years? Was it all a waste?” mused one doctor who said he has experienced growing disrespect at Hamad.
Credit: Photos by Shabina S. Khatri